Thursday, July 31, 2008

An Introduction to the Lancashire County Quarter Sessions

The Lancashire Records Office is always a fascinating place to visit, even if the parking is incredibly difficult, the train journey’s even more impossible and, when you haven’t got a clue what you’re actually looking for, you’d be wise to take a picnic and a stack of flasks along with you because it’s going to be a long haul. But (and it’s a big ‘BUT’…about the size of Dawn French’s, in fact, which, you’ve got to admit, is massive) there is a website available that’s an enormous help, because on it you can trawl through the various documents (or at least their summaries) without ever having to leave your armchair (and end up with a bottom the same size as Our Dawn’s in the process no doubt):
Obviously there are wills and minutes and reports and all sorts of miscellaneous stuff included in the database, but as far as me and Michelle are concerned, the most interesting wodge of documents are those relating to the Lancashire County Quarter Sessions, which basically cover our local court cases going back to the year dot, if not before. And there are quite a few surprises hidden away amongst all the evictions and quitclaims and writs, such as ‘Dorothie, wife of Thomas Shawe of Skippool’, in 1627 being accused of

That’s not the sort of case you’d expect to be presented in court nowadays. (The occasional dodgy palm reading, perhaps, or some litigation brought about by a skull-shaped candle dripping hot wax onto a grockle’s new dress…but witchcraft doesn’t seem to be regarded with the same amount of panic these days.) However, back in 1627, it was no laughing matter. Apparently, Dorothie’s neighbour, William Wilkinson, called her a ‘witch and a demdyke’ (harsh words indeed) claiming, “Thou art a witch…God bless me…I am affrayed for my wife, children and goods…” (Although not necessarily in that order.) That last bit of information, incidentally, was garnered from Graham Evan’s excellent ‘Skippool: Old Port of Poulton le Fylde’, because, unfortunately, the online records don’t go into much detail.
Regardless of the pracied contents at the records website, there’s still a lot to be gleaned. For example, one item of interest from 1628 is the ‘burial certificate of a child of Richard Rossall, husbandman, to appear at Sessio
ns for selling adulterated grain to Arthur Sharples of Freckleton, gent, in Poulton Market’. (You get the general impression that Richard Rossall wasn’t having the best of weeks.

Then there’s this, also from 1628: “John Sandam, milner, bastardy on Alice Smith, spinster.” Yes…before anybody starts, bastardy was exactly what it implied, i.e. the shiring of an illegitimate child and the refusal to cover its costs afterwards, only without the CSA tracking you down through rain, mud or snow or the ‘Fathers for Justice’ people standing in the dock dressed as Batman.
Bastard children were incredibly numerous back in those times, especially for some reason around Pilling. It was a hobby that seemingly chronicled the Pilling residents throughout the centuries. By way of example (and there are literally hundreds of them) we find this: “An
order of filiation and maintenance of the bastard child of John Hornby, the younger, of Pilling, wheelwright, and Mary Preston, in 1810.” In fact, it’s worth visiting the website for yourselves and typing Pilling into the search engine just to see what we mean.

Here’s another example, from 1811: “
Order of filiation and maintenance of bastard son of Richard Higginson of Pilling, husbandman, and Peggy Clarkson, single-woman.” Husbandman…now there’s an irony for you. Given the vast number of such illegitimate offspring (and, no, we’ve no idea whether our old friend John Higginson at the Fylde and Country Life Museum is descended from the aforementioned Richard, so let’s assume that he isn’t and leave it at that), it’s hard to believe that anyone left in the village nowadays actually stems from a ‘legitimate’ source. No wonder they shut down the Newers’ Wood chapel and rebuilt the church smack bang in the village centre.
Other recorded misdemeanours include, from Poulton in1634, a petition by Isabel Crosfeilde, widow, against damage done to her ground by her son-in-law Thomas Crosfeilde. In response, the aforementioned Thomas Crosfeilde (and others) filed a petition against Isabel and Margaret her daughter for threats. Who needs council estates for entertainment when you’ve got 17th century Poulton, eh?
Sticking with Poulton, in 1701, Robert Taylor applied for compensation for the ‘over assessment’ of his windows. We’re not talking about dodgy window cleaners charging by the pane of glass here, but the local council charging people for window tax. Or rather overcharging them, because, a further search reveals that quite a substantial number of people were over-assessed. (Poulton council overcharging people eh? Who’d have thunk it?)
All of which would be enough to drive the average person to drink, which, by all accounts, is what made several locals steal on various occasions from Jonathan Blackburne Esq.’s Poulton-le-Fylde malt kilns that same year. (How was that for a smooth and almost unnoticeable segway?)
Also in Poulton in 1634, was the “…presentment of five named people for riotous assault on Christopher Harris.” We’re not sure what he’d done to upset them. He might have been a window tax assessor or possibly stolen something of value belonging to them, as was the case in Out Rawcliffe in 1637 when Richard Butler, gent, prosecuted Edward and John Williamson (presumably not gents) for stealing his geese. (Another excellent segway there…I’m getting good at these.

Meanwhile in Pilling in 1627, John Eskham complained that James Hornby of Upper Rawcliffe and Christofer Fox of Pilling, yeoman, had deprived him of his estate. (And, let’s face it, you need an estate when you live in Pilling, if only to drive your lazy sheep around in.) Remaining in Pilling, in 1691 John Threlfall of the Sands Side, yeoman, assaulted Christophillus Walker...possible because of his stupid name.
We could go on like this for years, but you’re probably eager to discover some of these cases for yourselves by now. So, we recommend that you bookmark this excellent website ( in case you’d forgotten) and use it as a preliminary to visiting the actual records office. It’s especially useful, of course, for local researchers and historical voyeurs alike, full of interesting items that you can bore your friends to death with in the pub on Saturday night.


Andrew Highriser, said...

Were your own convictions listed Brian?

John said...

Now this is just the kind of good old fashioned fun that the web needs more of. At least when you post pictures of celebritis doing naughty things,they're fun to look at woodcuts(or fascimilies thereof).

And before anyone else says it, 'segue' is not spelled 'segway', although it might have been in 18th century Pilling, for all I know.

Excellent, entertaining, and informative stuff.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS Andrew, I'm sure there are inch thick files in Fleetwood, Blackpool, and even Pilling with Brian's name on them, but we won't find them in any computer, knowing his hacking skills. Don't tell him I said so, though, cause that could be considered slanderous, and I'm sure he's just looking to get me on something since I pointed out how he spells 'segue'. :0)

Ann O'Dyne said...

I love Old Records.
My Buckinghamshire ancestor got 14 years in 1832 at The Assizes, for being in possession of a quantity of pigfat for which he had no logical explanation.
That old record always makes me laugh.
The Governor General is having a laugh at an old record too; and as well, there's a butt bigger than Dawn's at my place, and he did it.

Bwca said...

but John John John, 'segue' is pron. seg-way, and since the only point of language is to communicate, our Host blogger has succeeded.

We can all see that Your 'celebritis' is merely a typo, and we ain't pickin' onya for it. It's the summer heat getting to you - go suck on a longneck, man.

Bwca said...

Johnno failed to pick on you for 'pratied' - the Irish past-tense of precis, so we are ahead of him there at least.
17thC bastardry seems to have been on a par with contemporary ditto, to wit:
Kimberly Forte and Blunkett, D.,
Lizzie Hurley and that louse Bing;
Mel Spice and Eddie Murphy's ego,
Pat Cash's entire brood,
Angelina JolieHomewrecker's brood,
even Lord Snowdon did it to that Country Life journo.

John said...

I'm giving Wychwood Brewery's Scarecrow Golden Pale Ale a try right now. It ain't bad, although I still prefer something a bit darker.

As for my spelling, yes, it were a typo, since me fingers don't fit the keyboard. Brian, though, wrote 'segway' several times, so I had to bust him for it, if only to beat Ann to the punch, for once.

So there, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


The archives don't go back that far.


I'll blame my spell checker for the mispelling of 'segue' in that case. Presumably Segway must also be a small town in Dorset.


In Lord Snowdon's case it wasn't bastardy. He was just exercising his right of droit-de-signeur (or however that's spelt).


You're quite right to pull me up on my spelling. I reckon 'segue' must be the one English word that you Americans haven't changed into something more phonetic and obvious. There's a certain irony there somewhere...but I'm bugggred if Iy no wot it iz.

John said...

not every word in the English language is English! I'm sure 'segue' was created by Hollywood, so there was no reason to upgrade the spelling or pronunciation to suit modern norms.

(ahem) Anyways, before the mob shows up, may I ask if the images in the blog were created by you, found by you, or avtually appeared in the Lancashire records?

Cheerio, pip pip, and all that, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


"...not every word in the English language is English!"

Correct...English is a composite language consisting of Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Norse, Norman and, nowadays, vast swathes of American. In fact the very word 'English' is a corruption of 'Anglish'...or something. The language is as mongrel as the race and still evolving.

Not that that's an excuse for my spelling mistakes. The word 'segue' (as contentious as it is) is actually Italian and refers to an unbroken transition from one piece of music to another. This explains why it's spelt differently to how it's pronounced. They're a twisty tongued lot these latinos.

My spelling has always been atrocious, I'm afraid. I was always getting in trouble for it at school. Even now I still can't remember how many 'c's and how many 's's there are in ocassionally and other simple stuff like that. That's why I spend out thousands of pounds on American software (well...all right...a couple of quid on pirated versions but the point remains) to keep an eye on such matters. So rather than chop off my own hand at my transgression, I'm going to blame/sue Bill Gates for the mispelling/non-recognition of segue...failing that Caxton.

Going off at a tangent (no segue here...I've given up 'em now) the pictures were borrowed willy-nilly from the internet. I figured that seeing as for the most part they're reproductions of mediaeval woodcuts, there wouldn't be any copyright on them. I added the captions myself, as you already might have realised.

Have a nice day good buddy (delivered with a cheesy, ingenuous MacDonald's-style grin)

Brian :@$

John said...

I really hate to point this out, 'good buddy' (sheesh), but you spelled "McDonald's" wrong. You used the Scottish spelling.

All that aside, however, I must congratulate you on having one of the very few blogs out there that actually educates the masses, while entertaining. That's a hard thing to do, so go ahead and take a bow.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

John old bean,

Spellchecker made me do it and then ran away.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that wuz fun

Brian Hughes said...


There's nothing like the enthralling headiness of scholastic debate, is there? And in all fairness, that was nothing like the enthralling headiness of scholastic debate.

Right...I'm off for a Big Mc with plenty of relish.

Ann O'Dyne said...

Segue is from the Italian, meaning "there follows," from seguire, "to follow," from Latin sequi.

I saw that TV series on The English Language that was presented by Melvyn Bragg.

Now I'm going over to Copperwitch to see if that 3-day birthday party is still going on.

Brian Hughes said...


I saw that series too. How to speak English using only your nostrils, I think it was called.

Jayne said...

The Adventures of English, tv series, perhaps?
Twisting one's nostril hairs around a double-vowelled semi colon with umpteen syllables that earn you a triple word score in Scrabble :P

Enjoyed the history lesson, will have a gander at the site.

Brian Hughes said...


Try typing in Lytham St Annes. You'll be shocked and disgusted.

JahTeh said...

The birthday party at Chez Copperwitch was over this morning when the bathroom scales run out the door screaming about abuse.

John, isn't a Segway, one of those two wheel motoring things you have to stand up on?

Brian Hughes said...


I knew there was a reason why my spellchecker didn't take me to task on my spelling of it. And there was I thinking it was some sort of motorcross championship course, or something.